Over the past few years, competitive grappling has rapidly become more popular within the realm of combat sports. No gi submission only events, in particular, have captured the attention of many.
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One of the figures leading the way for submission only events is Eddie Bravo, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt and the founder of 10th Planet Jiu Jitsu, the Eddie Bravo Invitational (EBI), and Combat Jiu-Jitsu Worlds.
Bravo has brought combat jiu-jitsu – a form of grappling in which open-handed strikes are legal once a competitor is grounded – to the mainstream.
Despite all of the notable names to have competed on Bravo’s cards, the upcoming Combat Jiu-Jitsu Fight Night is perhaps more star-studded than any to have come before it.
Streaming live exclusively on UFC Fight Pass, the event takes place on Friday, Feb. 22 in Los Angeles, California.
Here’s a look at the four-man heavyweight bracket.
Fabricio “Vai Cavalo” Werdum
Fabricio “Vai Cavalo” Werdum, at the age of 41, is widely considered one of the best heavyweight MMA fighters of all time.
While Werdum is currently under UFC contract, he has requested his release as a result of a two-year USADA suspension from May.
A native Brazilian, jiu-jitsu was Werdum’s initial martial art. Now a black belt, Werdum has won numerous national and world titles, including an IBJJF World championship and two ADCC gold medals.
Werdum’s competitive grappling record, per BJJ Heroes, is 32-13-1. He holds wins over notable opponents like Jeff Monson, Fernando “Tererê” Augusto, Saulo Ribiero, Roberto “Cyborg” Abreu, and a litany of others.
The former UFC heavyweight champion’s grappling prowess likewise extended inside the cage. Of his twenty-three career victories, eleven have come by way of submission, including stoppages over Fedor Emelianenko, Cain Velasquez, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, and others.
Werdum enters this contest with a wealth of grappling knowledge, but his MMA background should give him a significant advantage in a ruleset that condones strikes, albeit open-handed.
Werdum’s opening round matchup is against Gordon Ryan.
“King” Gordon Ryan
“King” Gordon Ryan is one of the most talented and feared submission only grapplers in the competitive scene.
A black belt under Garry Tonon and a pioneering member of the Danaher Death Squad, Ryan has accomplished more than most grapplers twice his age. For as experienced as Ryan may seem, he’s only 23-years-old.
In addition to his world-class accolades, which include a double gold showing at the 2018 IBJJF No-Gi World Championships, gold and silver medals at the 2017 ADCC, four EBI titles, and a recent championship at QUINTET 3, Ryan has also earned a reputation for being one of the most brash, outspoken figures in jiu-jitsu.
Ryan has called out almost every name imaginable, but Werdum will be the biggest Ryan has yet to face.
This will also be Gordon Ryan’s combat jiu-jitsu debut, as the American has yet to compete under the strikes-included ruleset.
Interestingly, if Ryan defeats Werdum, he will be guaranteed to enter a rematch in the finals. Ryan submitted Barnett with a triangle choke just last October at QUINTET 3, while he stopped Rustam Chsiev in overtime during the final round of EBI 6 in April of 2016.
Josh “The Warmaster” Barnett
Josh “The Warmaster” Barnett is another MMA star competing at CJJ Fight Night.
An American grappling legend, Barnett is one of the most accomplished heavyweights in MMA history. Barnett became the King of Pancrase in 2003, reached the finals of both the 2006 PRIDE (openweight) and 2012 Strikeforce (heavyweight) Grand Prix, and was the UFC’s heavyweight champion.
Barnett is also a noted catch-wrestler, a form of submission grappling noted for its ‘catch-as-catch-can’ format.
Barnett is also an honorary black belt in jiu-jitsu (a rank award to him by Erik Paulson with the endorsement of Rigan Machad0) despite confirming in 2015, “I don’t do BJJ. Period.” Rather, Barnett says he “stick[s] by [his] training in Catch Wrestling and it’s concepts.”
Of Barnett’s 35 MMA victories, 21 have come by way of submission.
If Barnett can defeat Chsiev, he will face the winner of Werdum vs. Ryan.
Rustam “Russian Bear” Chsiev
Rounding out the combat jiu-jitsu heavyweight tournament is Russia’s own Rustam Chsiev.
Chsiev, a world-class freestyle wrestler, is known for his seemingly impenetrable submission defense and brute strength.
While Chsiev will be shorter than the rest of the field, he is a behemoth of a man. Chsiev’s moniker, “Russian Bear”, is apt; he is a powerful, fierce competitor on the mats.
Chsiev reached the finals of EBI 6, submitting 1oth Planet’s Amir Allam and beating DJ Jackson and Matheus Diniz in overtime. In the finals, he was defeated in overtime by the aforementioned Gordon Ryan.
The Russian also holds wins over some of jiu jitsu’s most accomplished grapplers, including Romulo Barral, Davi Ramos, and Rafael Lovato Jr.
No matter how this tournament plays out, it’s sure to be one of the most compelling grappling events of the year. The bracket is stacked with notable, world-class talent, and the inclusion of open-handed strikes makes this tournament all the better.
Combat Jiu Jitsu Fight Night takes place on Friday, Feb. 22 in Los Angeles, California. The event will stream live, exclusively on UFC Fight Pass.
Michael Fiedel is The Body Lock's deputy editor, a staff writer for FloCombat, and a Russell-Rice scholarship recipient at Vanderbilt University.